Rediscovering Oahu's Unmatched Travel Experience - P. 11


McKinley High

From Ala Moana it was just another five minutes to McKinley High School. We went there partly because it’s a treat to show your teen where you went to school when you were her age, partly because it’s a bona fide historic landmark, and partly because it’s on the way to Indigo — Barack Obama’s favorite restaurant in the islands — where we planned to stop for an evening snack on our way to the airport.

Our teen’s interest in the gracious old colonial-era campus was wan at best, but it is as pleasant a place as any in which to experience Honolulu on the ground. The school’s original buildings feature colonnades, arched entries and sash windows, white walls, a cupola and is fronted by a row of luxuriant banyan trees lining each side of the long front lawn. Even now, nearly a century after it was built, the campus looks like a small exclusive private college rather than Honolulu’s inner-city high school in which 58% of the kids hail from economically disadvantaged families.

McKinley High McKinley High School in downtown Honolulu is Hawaii’s oldest public school.

McKinley’s historic significance is its status as Hawaii’s first secondary school, having been founded in 1865 as an English day school. It was moved to its current location in 1923 and became the alma mater of the state’s first senators, Daniel Inouye and Hiram Fong. In my day its high percentage of Japanese Americans earned it the nickname “Tokyo High”. Today Chinese and Filipino are the dominant ancestries, with Japanese making up less than a tenth of the student body.

The school seemed empty. We found an unlocked door to the main administration building and went inside in hopes of seeing the theater where I had performed in a couple of plays. By surreal chance my old drama teacher — who looked exactly as I remembered him but with snow on his head — happened to be in the theater rehearsing some teachers for their annual play. I suspect Mr Nakamoto didn’t quite remember me but he did recall the students who had played the leads of the production of Romeo and Juliet in which I had played Paris. During our five-minute encounter the decades melted away in a rush, leaving me in a nostalgic haze.

Honolulu Farmer’s Market

As we were leaving McKinley we decided to check out a small but lively farmer’s market in progress on the front lawn of what I still thought of as HIC (Honolulu International Center) but which had become the Blaisdell Center, a venue for sporting events, concerts and stage performances. The Center was adjacent to the high school, and we had taken advantage of its free parking because McKinley’s driveway had been chained off.

Farmer's Market Honolulu Farmers’ Market is held at various locations around the city on different days of the week. It’s better known for its variety of cooked foods than fresh produce.

The Honolulu Farmer’s Market is more of a small but lively local food festival than a place in which to stock up on fruit and veggies. It is held sometimes at the Kapiolani Community College which also adjoins McKinley to the south but on this particular Wednesday its dozen tents and stands were laid out on the lawn of the Blaisdell Center concert hall on the corner of King Street and Ward Street.

We were a bit surprised to see that one of the market’s big draws was Mexican food from Zaratez Mexicatessen. Another favorite seemed to be the Pig & the Lady which offered Vietnamese food, including some novel dishes that I had never seen at our favorite pho restaurants back home, including pork wrapped in betel nut leaves and banh mi containing braised coconut-water pork belly with mustard cabbage, fresh herbs and a poached egg on a toasted butter baguette. Fresh-baked pizza and a half dozen other types of hot fare gave off tempting aromas.

Mindful of our planned stop at Indigo, we kept our grazing light. We bought a plate of okonomiyaki, Japanese pancakes, plaintain and eggplant fritters, and some baked abalone. We picked up a tatami mat offered for free use and laid out our impromptu picnic on the lawn. We ate amid desultory chatter from a mix of locals ranging from haoles to fifth-generation Japanese and Chinese Americans to recent-immigrant Vietnamese and Filipinos. The market was a memorable reminder of the relaxed comingling of cultures that make for Hawaii’s inimitably laid-back feel.


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